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Moon dies, and empire divides

by
07 September 2012

AP

THE leader of the Unification Church, the Revd Sun Myung Moon, who was criticised for the alleged coercion of members of his move­ment, has died at the age of 92. Mr Moon (pictured, left, at a Unification church in Seoul) died in a church-owned hospital in South Korea.

His Church was nicknamed "the Moonies", and although he fought against the title, it stuck, and was used even by its members. It gained notoriety in the 1970s and '80s for its massed weddings, and stories from parents of their children's being "brainwashed" by the movement.

In recent years, however, he had adopted a much lower public profile, concentrating on his movement's large business empire, worth billions of pounds, and which included ownership of The Washington Times. Although the Unification Church says that it has millions of members, critics argue that a more likely figure is about 10,000 world­wide.

Born in North Korea in 1920, Mr Moon was brought up as a Presby­t­erian. He said that a vision of Christ came to him at the age of 16, and asked him to finish his work on earth. He founded his movement in Seoul in 1954, preaching a mix of conservative Christianity and Con­fucianism. His first massed wedding, where couples were selected by him for marriage, regardless of their background or common language, was conducted in 1961. His last such service, with 7000 couples, was held in 2010.

In recent years, Mr Moon had handed control of much of his Church and empire to his children. His official successor is his youngest son, the Revd Hyung-jin Moon, who was named as the Church's top religious director in April 2008. A split has arisen, however, between him and his eldest brother, who runs the business empire in the United States.

Eileen Barker, Professor Emeritus of Religion at the London School of Economics, and founder of Inform, an information network about new religious movements, said that it would be difficult to hold it together if the split at the top widened.

"The movement will continue for a while, but with the Messiah gone, it will become more institutionalised. It will depend on how many members follow the older son, and how many the younger. Mrs Moon will also have a big say theologically."

Professor Barker said that the organisation had developed since its first generation of supporters had grown up. "It's a lot more open now, but it's been a gradual change: it's become more a denomination and less cult-like, as the younger Moonies have matured. Now, even with the weddings, parents and children have a lot more say in whom they marry.

"It's come a long way from the '70s, when Mr Moon was rated the most evil person in the world by some surveys."

The vice-president of the Unification Church USA, the Revd Joshua Cotter, said: "The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, revered by millions as the Messiah and True Parent, who was born in Korea but who lived more than 40 years in America . . . has ascended."

Mr Moon is survived by his second wife and ten children.

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